I arrived at Stockholm’s central station in the capital on time, and walked a mile to the Stockholm School of Economics for my 12th visit. I arranged to meet my host Per Andersson at 11:45, so had plenty of time. A friendly Ph.D. student let me into the offices, and in no time I was at work. The place was familiar, so I knew the location of the (free) coffee machine and other essentials. Per arrived early, and we peeled off for lunch at a buffet place a block away (also familiar). As we left the building, I asked about the scaffolds on the façade, and among other things learned that the structure had historic and protected status, because the Nobel prizewinning economist Gunnar Myrdal had worked in the very corridor where Per officed.
We zipped back from lunch, then into the main SSE building for a graduate-level lecture on airlines and Big Data. Yakked with a couple of students after class, walked back to the offices, changed into jeans, and said goodbye. Then headed (in rain, as usual) a mile south to the stop for the airport bus. Flew on Swiss to Zurich, flight slightly late (very un-Swiss), and dashed across the airport for a connecting flight to Geneva; I was bound for a quick visit with a former student, Fabio Scappaticci, and his family. Made the flight, and to my great delight, my luggage did, too. Met Fabio in the bag claim, hugs. The original plan was to stay at his house, but his parents, from Montreal, were visiting on short notice, so he dropped me at a simple motel five minutes from his place. It was 12:45 AM, and I was totally drained. Zzzzz.
Woke up at eight, unheard of, showered, and met Fabio at nine. Headed to the bakery in his village of Prevéssin-Moëns for breakfast breads, then home to meet parents Daniella and Angelo, wife Lisa, and sons Luca (5) and Leo (2.5). We hit it off immediately, falling into friendly banter about families, work, kids, life. Then we all piled into two cars and headed into the next town, Ferney-Voltaire, where the latter author and philosopher lived from 1759 until his death in 1778. The entire center of town was closed to traffic and open to a vast weekly food market. Visiting a place like that is clear evidence of how deeply the French care about food. Produce, meat, cheese, and more, endless varieties, conventional and increasingly organic. We bought fruits and vegetables, cheese, more bread, and lunch (to eat at home) from a tiny stall selling Vietnamese take-away. Ambled to the Carrefour supermarket for sausages to barbecue for dinner, then home. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm – so welcome after a week of gloom – and we ate lunch in the backyard, with a fine view of the low Jura Mountains to the north. It was naptime for Luca and Leo, and I joined them for an hour.
Refreshed, I fell back into conversation with Angelo and Daniella, who emigrated with their parents from south of Rome to Montreal in the 1960s. His was a classic Canadian success story. In the 1970s he hired on with Hydro-Quebec, the provincial power utility, that was building enormous waterpower projects at James Bay in northern Quebec. Three months on, one week off, 60-hour workweek guaranteed, and Angelo saved enough money to open a Dunkin Donuts franchise, then two, then three. He sold the last one in 2006, and since has worked hourly jobs at Costco and elsewhere to stay busy. They had two sons, both university graduates. A nice story.
Angelo and I took a long walk around the village, a very pleasant, leafy place. We tucked into a nice meal, again outside, just as the dusk colors were at their best. Lisa and Fabio put the kids to bed, we ate some French-style apple pie, and after hugs and kisses Fabio drove me back to the motel.
That Saturday was the kind of travel experience that I have enjoyed for decades and have recommended often: to experience life, family life, in another part of the world is extraordinary for its simplicity. To see a kitchen; to help with chores, to hug kids and carry them around a backyard on shoulders, to walk the neighborhood. To quote Voltaire, it was “the best of all possible worlds.”
Was up at a normal time Sunday morning, two cups of motel-room instant coffee, and out the door, walking a kilometer to the city hall in Ferney-Voltaire. On the way, I passed the city park, where the day before, on the north end, I noticed some phrases that appeared to be from Voltaire’s pen, printed on steel and inserted into the concrete. And there were some on the south side, too:
A little more about Voltaire and the town: in 1755, he was “on the run,” having angered both Frederick the Great of Prussia and King Louis XV in his native France, so he settled in Geneva and bought an estate. But then one of his new writings angered the locals, so he hopped across the border and bought an estate in Ferney. He was not only a writer, but helped establish pottery and watchmaking industries in his new home, as well as theatre, which was banned in Geneva. Quite a fellow. As I have written here before, my fave Voltaire quotation is “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Hopped on the bus for a 12-minute ride to Geneva Airport. Time for breakfast; I remembered from a visit in 2013 that there was a Migros supermarket in the airport train station, so made fast for a store I’ve known since my first visit to Switzerland in 1972. As I’ve written many times, visiting a grocery is another one of those simple and rewarding overseas moments. Bought yogurt, a banana, a yeasted raisin roll, and a mango smoothie, and enjoyed a picnic breakfast on platform 2. The train to St. Gallen and the fifth university on the trip departed in an hour, so I hopped another for the short ride into downtown Geneva. True to my zeal for cramming as much as possible into a day, I rolled my suitcase a few blocks to the lake, Lac Leman, then back. Hopped on the 9:42 direct to St. Gallen.
I was looking forward to a four-hour ride across Switzerland, and it did not disappoint. As we headed to Lausanne, to my left were vineyards marching up gentle slopes, and to the right glimpses of the lake and the backbone of the Alps, including Mont Blanc. Eastward, and plenty of interesting scenes: farmers harvesting maize (corn), hundreds of grazing cattle, and lots of bicyclists out on a sunny day.
After checking into the hotel in St. Gallen, changing clothes, and eating a $17 Subway footlong (welcome to Switzerland!), I joined the cyclists, climbing 900 feet, whew, out of St. Gallen to the picturesque villages of Speicher and Trogen. The original plan was to continue on to Altstätten, but when I got to a little fork in the road called Oberegg I could see my destination, only about 5 miles away but almost 2000 feet below. Sure, the ride there would have been fun, but I just did not see an upward slog, so I snapped some pictures of the Rhine Valley, and turned around. It didn’t take long to get back, down that long slope back into town. It was a perfect ride, the whole rural Swiss experience (to me, best seen on a bicycle): the melody of tinkling bells around cows, sheep, and goats; traditional architecture; a mix of broadleaf and pine forest, rushing streams. No yodeling, but you could imagine it! Took a short nap, and at dusk headed a few blocks east to a new restaurant in town, run by young people, for a beer and a bratwurst. Scenes from a good day:
Up early Monday morning, out the door, up another, smaller hill (only 300 feet of rise) to the University of St. Gallen and my 17th appearance since 2000. From 10:30 to noon delivered a talk on airline revenue management to undergrads, then grabbed a quick lunch in the Mensa (student cafeteria) with morning host Sven Reinecke. Rode down the hill, and from 1:45 to 3:15 spoke to Prof. Winfried Ruigrok’s full-time MBA class. A great group: diverse, engaged, enthused. Just a pleasure. Rode back to the hotel, changed clothes, and did some work. As I did the year before, at 6:30, met Paul and Hananja Brice at a fondue restaurant for a fun meal and lots of great conversation – kids, UK and U.S. politics, Swiss prices, and more. I first met Paul when he was chaplain of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and we’ve stayed in touch. He’s now pastor of the Anglican church in Zürich.
Out the door Tuesday morning for a quick eight-mile bike ride (on mostly flat terrain), then suited up. On the way up to the university, I stopped as I always do at the wildly Baroque abbey church of St. Gallen. A good place for morning prayers, and for whispering a few words to the wonderful carved angel on the ceiling, who has been a friend and touchstone for almost 20 years. Worked the morning in the library, and at 1:00 met Winfried and his assistant Georg Guttman, who has been my host for many years (he is also the bicycle lender; what a champ!). Hewing to tradition, we met at Wienerberg, an old-school café adjacent to the campus. It was a warm, sunny day, and we ate outdoors, catching up on changes since September 2016.
Back to the library to work a few hours, then from 4:30 to 6:00 delivered a lecture to the school’s #1-in-the-world Masters in International Management and Strategy. The kids were young (most right into the program after getting their first degrees), but motivated. Stayed 20 minutes more outside the classroom answering questions, then walked to the bike. It had rained briefly during the lecture, but, happily, it had stopped (my raincoat was back at the hotel). Rode down the hill on wet streets, careful on the curves, and was home in no time. Changed clothes, worked my email, and walked two blocks to the Coop supermarket in the train station for a salad, rolls, and a beer (after a big lunch I didn’t need much). Was asleep by 9:15 . . .
Up at 5:15, out the door and onto the 6:00 train “down the hill” to Konstanz, on what Germans call Bodensee and we call Lake Constance. Changed trains there, and at Singen, then Horb, then Tübingen, finally arriving in my destination, Reutlingen at 9:50. It took nearly four hours to travel only about 140 miles, because there are no direct routes. But the ride was pleasant. Once the sun rose, fall colors were at their best, the landforms interesting (ridges and curious “bumps” that rose a few hundred feet out of a flat plain). For awhile we were in the Black Forest, deep green, and it felt like Hansel and Gretel were at hand.
At the station, I hopped on a city bus for a short ride up the hill to the ESB Business School of Reutlingen University and my fifth visit in two years (I normally walk, but I didn’t have luggage on previous visits). Made fast for the Mensa, drank two strong coffees, and at 11:30 delivered a lecture to Oliver Götz’s undergraduate marketing class. The talk went well. At the start of Q&A, Oliver asked about what American Airlines did after 9/11 to rebuild. I answered. After class, a student approached to tell me that he thought it the tragedies were a conspiracy. “You mean, engineered by the U.S. Government?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. I wanted to slap him, but instead lit into him verbally. I don’t think a student had ever made me as angry.
Oliver and I headed to the Mensa for lunch and a good yak, then back to his office, and I peeled off, back on the bus to downtown. My last night in Europe was another Airbnb, advertised as a “micro-apartment” in the old town, and it was. Host Marcus met me right on time, handed me the key, and peeled off. Took a quick nap, worked for a few hours, then went out for a walk on a lovely warm afternoon. At six I ambled into a fave place, Barfüsser, a microbrewery and restaurant for a couple of beers and a totally enormous plate of roast pork, dumpling, and kraut salad. Yum.
Back to the micro, a bit of work, a few pages of a gripping new novel, and lights out. Up early again, 5:30, out the door, onto a train for Stuttgart, a connecting fast one to Frankfurt Airport, and a flight to Philadelphia then home to Washington.
It would be hard to cram more into 92 days of a quarter!